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Date: Wed, 1 Aug 2001 19:23:42 -0700
From: DS2000 <email@example.com>
To: isml <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [isml] Scientists outflanked and outgunned in cloning debate
Scientists outflanked and outgunned in cloning debate
By Toni Clarke
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scientists involved in cloning research are being
out-manoeuvred by well-funded religious and anti-abortion groups, and are
unlikely to prevent the United States from banning therapeutic cloning
unless they put their message across more forcefully, industry experts say.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to outlaw human cloning
and to ban the cloning of embryos for the purposes of medical research in a
decision that, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, could put the U.S.
biotechnology industry behind Britain and other countries that have less
If proponents of therapeutic cloning are to be successful, lobbying groups
such as the Biotechnology Industry Organisation and the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America (Phrma) need to enter the debate more
aggressively, cloning research advocates say.
"We have a huge job to do in terms of educating the public," said Thomas
Tureen, a spokesman for Advanced Cell Technology Inc., a Worcester,
Massachusetts-based company that aims to clone cells to treat a variety of
diseases, from Parkinson's to Alzheimer's. "If there is to be any salvation
out of this it will be that people will wake up to how little thought went
into this vote."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, reaffirmed on
Tuesday that he opposes cloning "under virtually any circumstances" and that
there are "limits to what we can do morally with embryonic stem cell
research." That doesn't bode well for stem cell scientists.
The goal of therapeutic cloning is to reprogram an adult's own cells to
create new ones that can replace those that are diseased or cannot
Under the proposed ban it would still be legal to pursue stem cell science
using cells from embryos discarded in in vitro fertilisation clinics. But
this will not allow patients to gain full benefit from research, according
to stem cell researchers.
"IVF tissue, while useful for research, will have limited application in
therapy because it is not an exact genetic match for any patient," Tureen
said. "That's where the public is confused, I think."
Scientists involved in cloning research are hindered in the public debate by
fears that a Frankenstein baby will be created if there are not stringent
"What the House has voted on, disappointingly, is to make the leap from an
embryonic stem cell to assume someone will go on to clone a human being,"
said Jeff Swarz, a portfolio manager at Life Science Group, a Greenwich,
Connecticut-based asset management company that specialises in health-care
investments. "That's a scientific leap that is far, far into the future."
The biotechnology industry is also being outgunned in the corridors of
power. The Biotechnology Industry Organisation, for example, has just 10
people in its government relations department and stem cell research is just
one of dozens of issues they try to address, according to its spokesman,
Michael Werner. The lobbying group doesn't even pretend to have great
influence with lawmakers.
He said the group, which represents about 1,000 companies, will "continue to
testify and meet with members of Congress," but it will take a back seat to
organisations representing patients suffering from various diseases.
"The message will be carried by the patient groups," Werner said. "They are
the ones who can put human faces on the debate and can describe the
health-care benefit, so they are the ideal folks to do it."
The scientists' cause is getting no help from the big U.S. pharmaceutical
"The only position we take is that our members are not in the business of
cloning babies or cloning human beings and we are not going to do it," said
Jeffrey Trewhitt, a spokesman for Phrma, which represents the major drug
With such meagre support behind them, companies such as Advanced Cell
Technology could be forced to abandon their research or move to another
country, analysts said.
"Any scientific arena that is stifled by politicians isn't good for the
scientific community and may not be good for the general public," Swarz
Still, not all companies agree that their voice hasn't been heard, or even
should be heard. David Greenwood, chief financial officer of Menlo Park,
California-based Geron Corp., said lawmakers are not short of the facts, and
deserve time to digest the information given to them during testimony.
"People are making up their minds based on religious or philosophical views
and it is not appropriate for us to try to influence people's thoughts in
that respect," Greenwood said. "Nor will we attempt to influence public
opinion on the question."
Geron, however, has little at stake. It already conducts its research in the
U.K., and the one U.S. researcher it had planned to collaborate with on
therapeutic cloning, Roger Pedersen from the University of California in San
Francisco, said last month that he would defect to take up a lecturing post
Some still maintain, too, that U.S. politicians will eventually come to
favour therapeutic cloning as the public becomes aware of the medical
Swarz points to the furor that occurred two decades ago when recombinant DNA
research, or genetic engineering, was first introduced. Once the first
genetically engineered form of insulin was created, by Genentech Inc.,
opposition faded away.
"That was a huge breakthrough as people came to see the enormous benefit of
genetic engineering," Swarz said. "I think the same thing will happen with
-- Dan S
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